A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew

Basic Books  2008

Thirteen letters from Jonathan Sarna to his daughter form the heart of this warm, tender book, letters that examine the central themes of Judaism in relation to the Jewish holiday cycle. Many holidays not generally written about, such as Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel Independence Day, and Tu be-Av, a holiday that celebrates love and marriage, get full attention here. The book particularly addresses topics of interest to young people, including assimilation, interfaith marriage, social justice, the environment, and happiness.

An experienced author and history professor at Brandeis University, Sarna sees Judaism as both a way of life and a way to experience family, history, the world. He offers a multiplicity of viewpoints as he speaks to young Jews, but his refreshing ideas will resonate with Jews of all ages. His words do not evoke one particular movement over another, and will be welcomed by all who want to better understand the Jewish view of major themes in contemporary life.

Reminiscent of an ethical will, in which a Jew leaves as a legacy the ideas that mean the most to him or her, the book was inspired by Sarna’s daughter as she became a young adult, and each chapter begins, “Dear Leah...” and ends, “Love, Abba.” Index, notes, suggestions for further reading.

Second Review of A Time to Every Purpose

By Norman H. Finkelstein

Those familiar with Jonathan Sarna’s previous works will be pleasantly surprised by the format and content of his latest book, A Time to Every Purpose.Written as a series of loving letters to his daughter, Sarna draws on his roots as an eminent historian to present the conflicting choices facing young people (and older folks, too) about being Jewish in contemporary America. Taking us through the Jewish calendar, Dr. Sarna writes introspective and personal “seasonal” letters which not only provide specific information about each holiday but challenge the reader to consider how the stories and ritual of each holiday shape our spiritual and religious lives. This is not a book with didactic solutions to the question of Jewish continuity but with open-ended choices. “Will you study Judaism, practice Judaism, and then transmit Judaism, someday, to your own children?” The underlying message to his daughter and to us is that “the Jewish future rests in your hands.” This wonderful book, probably the shortest of all his titles, has the greatest potential to reach a large and diverse audience. While written from the heart to a beloved child, this book should be required reading for anyone—teenager, parent, or potential convert—curious about what it means to be Jewish in America today.

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